Blog Posts by Common Sense Media

  • Help a Grandma Out: Tips for Managing Holiday Gifts

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor

    One holiday, when my superhero-loving son was 4, a well-meaning family member gave him a DVD of Spider-Man 2. Perhaps they didn't realize that the movie was rated PG-13 -- or just didn't think it mattered. But nothing ruins the fun on Christmas morning like having to pry a new gift out of your kid's hands because you think it's inappropriate. I actually didn't go that far, but I did end up spending a lot of time and energy over the next few weeks telling my son, "You can watch it when you're older" (which was always followed by "Whhhhyyyyyy?!").

    Exchanging holiday gifts can be one of the highlights of the winter season, but ensuring that the process goes smoothly for everyone can take a little pre-planning on your part. Remember that not everyone is in tune with what your kids are interested in, what's appropriate for their age, or what your family rules are around media-related toys and treats. Here are some tips for helping

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  • 8 Tips for Smart and Sane Holiday Shopping

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media editor

    Now that Black Friday starts at many stores on Thanksgiving night, holiday shopping madness is in full swing even before you put away the leftovers. And many of the season's strongest sales pitches are directed right at kids.

    Is it possible to partake of only those holiday rituals you love -- twinkling lights, yummy treats, peace on earth -- and nix the parts you don't -- escalating prices, overflowing wish lists, unrealistic expectations, crying, begging, and whining? We think yes. But you'll need to start training yourself and your kids now to think more critically about holiday marketing messages, and make a concerted effort to replace them with your own. Here's how:

    Before Things Get Too Crazy

    Be on ad alert. This holiday season, marketers will be using social media, websites, and viral ads to capture your kids' attention. Kids under 7 can't distinguish between ads and other content, and even older kids can be tricked by

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  • How My Parents Accepted Me as a Gamer

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy Rachael Ward, Common Sense Media intern

    Growing up, I remember watching my older brother play Super Mario and Legend of Zelda. It was before I got the courage to pick up a controller myself; I used to think I didn't have enough skill to play -- at least not as much as my brother, who was good at everything.

    Yet through practice and determination, I learned the ins and out of many tough games. And I learned that I loved the games not just for the action, but for their storylines. The problem was, whenever I wanted to talk to my parents about these stories, it was really hard to get them to take me seriously.

    To my parents, games like Pong and Super Mario Brothers were just entertainment. In fact, they thought most games had no real value and were just an escape from reality. They thought I needed to learn to face "real life." In a sense, they were right. Games absolutely provided an escape from my life, which could be painful at times. (More on that later.)

    The

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  • Must-See Holiday Movie Guide: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

    Wreck-It RalphWreck-It RalphBy Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media reviewer

    If "great family movies" are at the top of your wish list this holiday season, you're in luck -- this fall, the multiplex will be packed with kid-friendly characters, from video game strongmen (Wreck-It Ralph) and hobbits (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) to James Bond (Skyfall) and even a Twilight vampire or two for teens. We'll provide detailed ratings and reviews on everything from violence to sexual content, plus conversation starters so you can talk to your kids about what you see. For now, find out what all the buzz is about so you can start making a list of which movies will be -- and won't! -- be on your family's movie agenda this season.


    Now Playing and Coming Soon

    Wreck-It Ralph (Nov. 2)
    Target Age: Young Kids
    What's the Buzz?: Leave it to Disney to come up with such an inventive idea: Wreck-It Ralph, a video game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly), is tired of always being the bad guy, so he

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  • 5 Trick-or-Treat Apps for a Safe and Fun Halloween

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy the editors at Common Sense Media

    Whether your kid is trick-or-treating or heading to a friend's house for a party, these tools will come in handy. Parents can use their smartphones to keep up with their child's location, provide a network of trusted adults in case of emergency, or simply help revelers plan their route. Here are 5 trick-or-treat apps that will help ensure your child has a safe and fun Halloween.

    Treat or Treating
    For ages 12 and up
    4 out of 5 stars
    Parents need to know that Trick or Treating is a very simple mapping app that uses Google Maps to help you create a list of directions from one stop to another. You can bookmark the locations using street addresses or GPS coordinates. Like all navigation apps, parents will want to use it as a tool and not consider it a foolproof child-safety solution.
    Read more about the app here.

    Trick or Tracker Child Locator
    For kids ages 12 and up
    3 out of 5 stars
    Parents need to know that Trick or Tracker Child Locater is a GPS

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  • Watch Out! Family Movies with Surprisingly Emotional Moments

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media editor

    I don't mind admitting that there are movies that make me cry. Steel Magnolias gets me every time (that scene where Sally Field loses it after the funeral?), and even WALL-E left me blinking back a few tears (happy ones, but still). I come by my cinema-induced emotions honestly (my dad still tears up at Disney movies), and sometimes I even prefer a good flick that will let loose a few sniffles in the dark.

    But I'm not a kid, and most of the movies that have made me cry are ones that I knew in advance I should have tissues handy for. It's a far different experience to be settled in for family movie night -- ready for a few laughs, a few "awwww" moments, and maybe a nice message or two -- and then get hit by THE SCENE: the one you aren't expecting that leaves your kids upset, teary eyed, or even sobbing. We've rounded up some family targeted movies that fall into a few key "watch out" categories and might make the kind of childhood memories

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  • Avoid Commercialism with These 5 Creative Halloween Ideas

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor

    Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, from when I was 5 and my mom made my Big Bird costume out of a paper grocery bag to the year I glued Play-doh horns to my forehead in a messy attempt at dressing up as a devil.

    Now that I'm a parent, my kids and I take our costumes seriously. And I love seeing what they'll choose. There was the year my kindergartener wanted to be Michael Jackson but then changed her mind after I'd made the costume. After my daughter and I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, our entire family went as characters from the book. And this year, my son is debating whether to shave his head for his Last Airbender costume.

    Books, TV, and pop culture are great places to get inspiration for Halloween costumes. But for the last few years, the kids trick-or-treating at our door have seemed more like walking advertisements than an exercise in inspiration. From boys in puffed-up Iron Man garb to girls

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  • Tips to Steer Kids Through the Political Season

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media editor

    Today, when the latest campaign trail gaffe or political scandal goes viral, your kids will likely hear about it before you do. How will they know whether a claim or a charge is based in fact, an unsubstantiated smear, or typical campaign overstatement?

    That's where you come in. Nearly half of young people ages 15-25 get news at least once a week from family and friends via Twitter or Facebook, according to a study by the University of Chicago. And they can't necessarily tell fact from fiction. One of the study's conclusions: "Youth must learn how to judge the credibility of online information and how to find divergent views on varied issues."

    The media plays a huge role in our country's political process. And with today's 24/7 news cycle, those effects are magnified. On the plus side, there are plenty of age-appropriate resources at your fingertips, some of which we've listed below. Here's how you can help your kids become

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  • 10 Worst TV Role Models of 2012

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor

    From Kim Kardashian to Honey Boo Boo, TV is full of outrageous characters who make us laugh, cringe, or scratch our heads in disbelief. Each year Common Sense Media takes a look at some of TV's most popular characters and shakes them down for what they do or don't have to offer kids and families. You'll see some familiar faces on this year's list (like Ms. Kardashian, for example) and many new ones. Some, like Jersey Shore's Snooki, have fallen off the list because her bad behavior has toned down, and there are so many others vying for her place in the "worst role models" spotlight.

    The good news for parents is that even the worst role models can serve as a starting point for some important discussions with kids. Conversations about characters' wild and crazy antics can lead to discussions about what is and is not appropriate behavior. These talks can also help your kid become more media savvy. Discuss the reasons why these

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  • Easy Tips for Setting Screen Rules that Stick

    Common Sense MediaCommon Sense MediaBy Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media editor

    In many homes, getting kids to turn off their cell phones, shut down the video games, or log off of Facebook can incite a revolt. And if your kids say they need to be online for schoolwork, you may not know when the research stops and idle activity begins.

    It may seem counter-intuitive, but getting involved with your kids' media is the first step to cutting the cord. Showing an interest, knowing what they're doing -- even playing along with them -- makes it easier to know how much is too much.

    Every family will have different amounts of time that they think is "enough." What's important is giving it some thought, creating age-appropriate limits (with built-in flexibility for special circumstances), making media choices you're comfortable with, and modeling responsible screen limits for your kids.

    Preschoolers. There are lots of great TV shows, apps, games, and websites geared for this age. But too much time spent in front of a

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